Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. 3rd edition. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books, 2007.

Joan Pinkvoss, in her introduction to the third edition of Borderlands, states that “the spirit” of Anzaldúa’s book is “hybrid, inclusive, many-voiced” (i), to the extent that the author gave a “voice to what it meant to be a hybrid…caught between los intersticios, the spaces between the different worlds she inhabits” (iii). More explicitly, to be hybrid is “to act—as we theorize” (xiii), to conflate the “iconographic-mythic-linguistic” (xv), and to participate in a “shaman aesthetic” wherein the storyteller transforms “into something or someone else” (xviii); or, in the Anzaldúa’s words, to enter into “a place of contradictions” (19) located “at the juncture of cultures [and] languages” that requires a “switching of ‘codes’” (20) for one to navigate it most effectively. In chapter one, readers confront this hybrid aesthetic immediately: Anzaldúa a) writes the text in both English and Spanish, b) in addition to her own, original writing, incorporates poems and block quotes from other writers, c) employs “a new genre she calls autohistoria” (2) that melds the genres of historical narrative, memoir, fiction, and poetry, as well as d) addressing content that focuses on the “U.S.-Mexican border,” which in her view “es un herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third—a border culture” (25). While each chapter within the first half of the book contains theoretical and aesthetic innovations, chapters five, six, and seven are of particular importance because they discuss language, aesthetics, and philosophy respectively. With regard to the first of these issues, Anzaldúa promotes a “a secret language” that connects to and communicates with the identity of “a complex, heterogeneous people” that comprises a fluid network of no less than eight, individual languages that range from Standard English to North Mexican Spanish dialect, to Pachuco (77), just to name a few. Validation of this heterogeneous, or “Wild” tongue is of the utmost importance to Chicanas because the dominant, white culture has deemed it “illegitimate, a bastard language” and thus speakers “have internalized the belief that [they] speak poor[ly]” (80). In “Tlilli, Tlapalli,” or the chapter on aesthetics, Anzaldúa suggests an intertwining of “religious, social, and aesthetic purposes of art” so that, contrary to Western cultures, the artistic would not be split from the functional (88). Furthermore, the author actively seeks to produce a book formed around “a mosaic pattern…a weaving pattern…with [a] deep structure” that is multi-textured and generates “a hybridization of metaphor…full of variations and seeming contradictions” (88). Finally, her aesthetic concerns are to be “enacted” and “forever invoked, always performance” (89), embodying, and thus connecting to the physical realm, her art. In the final chapter of the first section, Anzaldúa offers a framework for a new mestiza consciousness. While it does, to her mind, provide a third way or element, this consciousness is not a synthesis, which is a product of dialectical thinking. Whereas the latter produces a third element-thought-way through synthesis, and thus reconciliation between opposing elements-thoughts-ways, Anzaldúa’s new mestiza consciousness produces an “ambivalence from the clash of voices” and “results in mental and emotional states of perplexity” (100). Sometimes, this will necessitate that one working within this mode of thought take a “counterstance” with regard to the oppressor, at other times she must “split the two mortal combatants” so that she is “on both shores at once”, and at other times must “disengage from the dominant culture…and cross the border into a wholly new and separate territory” (101). As such, the modes of engagement and possibilities are numerous and fluid; the new meztiza needs to remain flexible, “shift out of habitual formations,” and develop a “divergent thinking, characterized by movement” toward inclusivity, or stated differently, “a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity” (101). The second half of Borderlands contains poems, written sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish, and more often than not, both. Aesthetically, the poems tend to be narratives dealing with border life, but usually present the reader with a speaker that undertakes a physical transformation or metamorphosis into another being or creature. For example: “If the wind would give her feathers for fingers/ she would string words and images together” (140), or “You must plunge your fingers/ into your navel, with your two hands/ split open,/ spill out the lizards and horned toads/ the orchards and the sunflowers” (186).

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